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Red Eft, Spiritual Nomad

red eft eastern newt on the ground under leavesThe red eft appeared from under some leaves and walked slowly down the hill towards the woods, seemingly oblivious to my presence. I shifted my gaze from the sapling that had been my meditation focal point to watch the eft. The bright red salamander stood out against the leaf litter, but the squirrels and chipmunks paid him no mind. By the time my meditation practice was complete, there was no longer any sign of him. He had disappeared under the leaves again.

The red eft is the juvenile stage of the eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), an amphibian abundant in most of eastern North America. The eastern newt begins life as an aquatic, brownish green larva. After about three months, the larva sheds his gills, transforms into a bright orange sub-adult with darker red spots, and leaves the water. The red eft is a terrestrial traveler.

The day before I watched the red eft had been the closing of my first year of the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary program. During that day, we had each been asked to speak about our experience during the year. Still struggling to define my spirituality in a coherent way despite a year of study, I described myself as a spiritual nomad.

As spiritual practices go, wandering is not all that uncommon. Jesus wandered in the desert. Before enlightenment, Buddha wandered from place to place. There are countless examples of pilgrims and transients among followers of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions. In Shamanic Reiki, we are encouraged to aimlessly wander out on the land with an open heart and without an agenda, to connect with nature.

And yet I was embarrassed to admit I was still wandering through my spiritual life while I was supposed to be learning to minister to others. I wondered what my classmates and the deans and teachers thought of my wishy-washy approach to spiritual matters. Would I be judged “not good enough” next year?

That question was on my mind as the red eft came into sight and it did not take long to realize the significance of his appearance. This small being was not afraid to be bright and bold, and he embraced the nomad life. The eft may wander for two or three years until he figures out where he belongs and walks back into the water, where he will transform again into an aquatic adult eastern newt. He has to be sure he is in the right place, because he will call it home for the next decade. It is no wonder he sees all that he can before deciding.

As for me, I guess I will remain an eft as well, and figure out how to shine as a spiritual nomad.

You can wander with me when you follow my podcast. Subscribe in your favorite podcatcher or find past episodes here.

Exploring Sacred Space: What do we mean by sacred space?

FairfaxSpiral_1Ever since I was a girl, I have been creating altars. From memorials to pets that had passed to a candlelit desk for contemplative studies to a full ritual altar at the center of a circle, I love the act of setting the stage for my intentions. Sometimes I find places where nature has created an altar of sorts: a sheltered cove between sand dunes with an interesting layout of shells, a hollow in the roots of a tree, or a mountaintop with an amazing view. As I think of these altars, I know they are sacred space. But why?

Sometimes an elaborate collection of objects creates a place where, as Joseph Campbell puts it, wonder can be revealed.

Sometimes an elaborate collection of objects creates a place where, as Joseph Campbell puts it, wonder can be revealed.

I love Peg Streep’s book, Altars Made Easy: A Complete Guide To Creating Your Own Sacred Space. In it, Streep defines sacred space as “a physical place where the divine or the supernatural can be glimpsed or experienced.” She sees sacred spaces as those places where we get in touch with that which is larger than ourselves. For me, it is the feeling of smallness you get when you stand on a peak and look out at the landscape spread out below, or the sense of wonder invoked by watching a candle flame dance. Sometimes the natural arrangement of objects, or simply a sense of the presence of a higher power, makes a place sacred.

Perhaps this, more than the need to “conquer” nature, inspires adventurers to climb the highest mountains or dive deep into the sea. Mountaintops, ocean reefs and the like are places of wonder and awe where we sense that which is beyond, yet within, ourselves. Even deep in the woods, or in your own backyard, nature offers such places. If you’ve ever stopped to contemplate a knot of tree roots, a circle of wild flowers, or the engineering of a perfect bird’s nest, you have felt it.

My simple elemental kitchen altar offers moments of serenity during busy days.

My simple elemental kitchen altar offers moments of serenity during busy days.

In Altars: Bringing Sacred Shrines into Your Everyday Life, the author, Denise Linn, notes that the human psyche yearns for the mysterious and wondrous things that bring meaning to life’s ordinary moments. Being in sacred space fills that need and nourishes the soul.  Indoors, a display of objects, when  imbued with meaning by the individual, becomes holy. Even a grouping of photos, placed with intention, can elicit a sense of connection, gratitude and wonder.

Take a look around your home, your yard, or the places you frequent. Where have you found or created sacred space?

(Perhaps my Pinterest board devoted to sacred spaces will inspire you to create or find your own altars.)